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DCF overhauls abuse hotline

MIAMI — The head of Florida's child welfare agency announced major changes Monday to an abuse hotline and other sweeping remedies intended to help overburdened child protective investigators after the death of a 10-year-old girl whose body was found in her adoptive father's truck.

"This tragedy was more than just mistakes and poor judgment executed by child welfare workers," Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said. "It was a total systematic failure."

The child welfare agency has been under fire for ignoring signs the twins were being abused.

The body of Nubia Docter was found doused in chemicals Feb. 14 in her adoptive father's truck on Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach. Her brother, Victor Docter, also was in the truck, soaked in a toxic chemical and suffering from serious burns. Their parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, have been charged in Nubia's death, authorities said.

Days before Nubia's death, someone called the hotline to report the twins were being bound by their hands and feet and locked in a bathroom. The call was flagged to be followed up within 24 hours instead of immediately. A child protective investigator who followed up on the call searched futilely for the twins for four days, but never called police. That investigator was fired, Wilkins said.

Wilkins said hotline operators — effective immediately — will no longer be rewarded by how quickly they handle a call, but how effectively. He said the abuse hotline had major issues, and other changes will mean adding a supervisor who will monitor the calls in real time to ensure calls receive a proper emergency response. The most serious abuse calls will immediately be forwarded to police. Calls that can be responded to within 24 hours will be given to law enforcement twice a day — a change from once a week.

The changes come after hotline supervisor Walter Cook resigned earlier this month. Another employee was fired and another resigned after Nubia's death. Regional director Jacqui Colyer and a hotline operator were reprimanded.

Wilkins also wants to implement technology that can assess cases and automatically flag problems, similar to the way credit card companies are alerted to aberrant billing patterns.

"We should never be able to have this many flags going off and not see it," he said.

The agency is also reviewing the way its private contractors manage cases.

DCF overhauls abuse hotline 03/14/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2011 9:28pm]
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